Silly Summer News and Iran’s Slow Boil

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The news tends to go small in the dog days of summer. At the White House today, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs fielded a half dozen questions (of various formulations) about the kind of beer President Obama would drink when he meets with Skip Gates and the embattled Cambridge Police Officer. (No clear answer. POTUS, who is not much of a drinker, drank Bud once.) Other (non)questions about the birthplace of Barack Obama, a sort of ultra-potent conspiracy catnip, have leaked into the White House briefing room and onto cable news, a sudden discovery of the obvious nothing. (A DVD documentary on the subject is due out next month.) The resignation of the Alaskan governor, meanwhile, who oversaw a state with fewer people than my hometown of San Francisco, has become the summer’s political Telenovela. (Newt Gingrich just could not keep our interest, it seems, but Sarah Palin bashing the media and defending guns. . . Stay tuned!) No doubt in a few weeks, in the deadly doldrums of August, the cable news nets will start flashing Amber Alerts again, or we will have live helicopter shots of Michael Jackson’s anesthesiologist going to the mall, or whatever.

I write all this by way of introduction to the real subject of this post, the continuing, fascinating, slow, gradual turmoil in Iran, which is exactly the sort of story for which America’s Adderall-addled attention span cannot keep in focus. The story in Iran, in other words, appears to be far more interesting and uncertain than it was even was a few weeks ago, when all the Twitter caricatures turned green and CNN went wall-to-wall.

On the one hand, we have been reading reports that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is facing a conservative revolt, and is clashing with the nation’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who is his principal backer against charges of electoral skullduggery. More interesting still is the forceful declaration today by Mir Hussein Moussavi that he will not abandon his protests against the current government. Per the New York Times:

“How can it be that the leaders of our country do not cry out and shed tears about these tragedies,” Mr. Moussavi said, in comments to a teachers’ association that were posted on his Web site. “Can they not see it, feel it? These things are blackening our country, blackening all our hearts. If we remain silent, it will destroy us all and take us to hell.”

Set those words aside, and we are left with the fact that Moussavi is attempting to get a permit to hold a public mourning ceremony for the dead on the 40 day anniversary of the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose bloody end has been memorialized on YouTube. The symbolism of this is not lost on students of Iranian history. This is a country that has historically practiced political uprising in cycles. Ryszard Kapuscinski, in Shah of Shahs, described the sequence of events that led to the flight of the Shah in 1979.

Thus the Iranian Revolution develops a rhythm of explosions succeeding each other at forty-day intervals. Every forty days there is an explosion of despair, anger, blood. Each time the explosion is more horrible–bigger and bigger crowds, more and more victims. The mechanism of terror begins to run in reverse. Terror is used in order to terrify. But now, the terror that the authorities apply serves to excite the nation to new struggles and new assaults.

For lots of reasons, the events in Iran this summer are not analogous to the Iranian revolution. But the national codes remain, a storyline to be guided by. And the 2009 Iranian presidential election is still far from resolved. So turn off the TV and stay tuned.